September 7, 2009
Top terror suspect is freed over secrets fearhttp://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6824172.ece
Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
The Home Secretary has released a man regarded as one of Britain’s most dangerous terror suspects from virtual house arrest to avoid disclosing secret evidence against him, The Times has learnt.
The man, known only as AF, has been subject to a controversial “control order” since 2006 because of his alleged links with Islamic terrorists. He has never been charged, however, and the evidence for the allegations has never been heard in a public court.
The control order was revoked last week and the suspect’s electronic tag removed, setting him free in spite of the Government’s claim that he remains a threat.
Lord Pannick, QC, who led the legal team acting for the man in the House of Lords, said: “The Home Secretary has some explaining to do. Does he now accept that there was no need for the control order which imposed severe restrictions on AF . . . or does he still think there is a need for controls but is unwilling to provide details of the allegations against AF? If the latter, does he accept that the control order regime is defective and should be scrapped?”
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AF, who has dual Libyan and British nationality, was one of three terror suspects who won a landmark ruling from nine law lords in July that their detention under the control order regime was illegal. The law lords ruled that the suspects had been denied a fair hearing prior to detention because they had not been told sufficient details of the case against them.
The ruling paved the way for up to 20 men held under the regime to challenge their detention and to seek to know the basis of the case against them.
Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, said at the time that the Government would contest each case vigorously. Ministers were faced with either disclosing secret intelligence-based evidence — with the risk, as they see it, of jeopardising intelligence sources or methods — or of releasing the men.
However, in a letter sent at the end of last month to the man’s solicitor, the Home Secretary said that he was revoking the control order under which AF had been held for three years. No reason was given.
AF, who was born in 1981 in Derby to a Libyan father and English mother, lives in a flat on the outskirts of Manchester. He was confined for up to 16 hours a day.
Carl Richmond, solicitor with the law firm Middleweeks who acts for AF, said that the legal team would now seek to have the control order formally quashed in the High Court at a hearing in late October or early November. “He feels numb about it all, almost disbelief,” Mr Richmond said. “The letter came out of the blue, with no warning.”
He added: “The control order was revoked last week. He has had his electronic tag removed and is just coming to terms with trying to readjust to a normal life.
“AF has always insisted that he has done nothing wrong. Clearly any evidence was such that the Home Secretary felt unable to disclose it. But we would argue that it was not material and could not have been relied upon in any case.”
AF’s family moved to Libya in the 1980s, but his mother returned to Britain where she still lives. She is the landlady of a public house in West Yorkshire.
The House of Lords heard that AF had spent his formative years in Libya with his father and sister.
They left in 2004 because of the blood feud between his family and the Gaddafi tribe and also to take advantage of better job opportunities.
AF was briefly married, is now divorced and has no children. He has a fiancée in Libya. He lives with his father in a council flat.
It was alleged that he had links with Islamist extremists in Manchester, some of whom were affiliated to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which became a proscribed organisation in October 2005.
In an earlier ruling on AF’s case, Mr Justice Ouseley found that the essence of the Home Secretary’s case against AF was in the closed, or secret, material. The disclosed material did not give grounds for reasonable suspicion against him.
A control order was first imposed in May 2006. He was subject to a 14-hour curfew and had to wear an electronic tag at all times. He was also restricted during non-curfew hours to an area of 9 square miles.
He had to report to a monitoring company on leaving his flat and on his return before the next curfew period began.
During curfew hours no one could visit except his father and official visitors or others agreed in advance by the Home Office. He could attend one specified mosque.
The control order regime was introduced after the House of Lords, in an earlier ruling, held that detaining terror suspects in jail without charge or trial was unlawful and incompatible with human rights.
In a second control order case that came before the High Court at the end of July, a judge revoked the control order on the suspect, known as AN, declaring it could not stand in the light of the law lords’ decision.
AN is suspected by the security services of intending to travel abroad for terrorism-related purposes and acting as a link between London-based extremists and overseas extremists linked to al-Qaeda.
However, in AN’s case the Home Secretary immediately put forward a new control order to begin as soon as the old one ended.
The suspect has lived under the order for two years and never been told the reasons.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, condemned the proceedings as “farcical” and the Home Office’s idea of justice as a case of “heads we win; tails you lose”.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We don’t give a running commentary on control order cases but provide quarterly updates to Parliament. The last was on June 15.”